Music TheoryPerformance DirectionsTempo

What Is The Musical Term For Slow?

Written by Dan Farrant

Last updated

When playing a piece of music there are lots of things to consider other than the actual notes that you’re playing. You have the dynamics, the phrasing, the timbre, the articulation but a very important part of playing music is the speed that you play it at. How quickly you play can change the entire feel of the music.

In this post, I’m going to cover all the words we use to describe music as slow. But before we get to that, let’s just cover what tempo is.

What is Tempo in Music?

What is tempo in music is common question that comes up and we use it to describe the speed that a piece of music should be played at.

But describing the tempo of a piece of music is a little harder than using words like “fast or slow.”

One way we can set the tempo is by using a BPM (beats per minute) marking that tells the musician exactly how many beats they should count in one minute.

They can use a free metronome to work this out.

But before metronomes existed, tempo was more of a relative term, and so in music, we tend to use different Italian terms to describe different speeds.

Italian Terms for Slow Tempo

Below are all the Italian terms used to describe slow tempos and I’ve put a rough BPM (beats per minute) if you want to use a metronome to check the speed.

Italian termDefinitionBpm
Larghissimoas slow as possibleunder 24 bpm
Adagissimovery slowly20-40bpm
Gravevery slow, solemn25–45 bpm
Largoslowly and broadly40–60 bpm
Lentoslowly45–60 bpm
Larghettofairly slow and broadly60–66 bpm
Adagioslowly66–76 bpm
Adagiettoslower than andante70–80 bpm
Andanteat a walking pace76–108 bpm
Andantinoslightly faster than andante80–108 bpm
Marcia moderatomoderately, in the manner of a march83–85 bpm
Moderatoat a moderate speed108–120 bpm

Note that the beats per minute are rough indications and there are lots of different opinions of what the actual BPM would be.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.